World Bulletin/News Desk
Syria wants details on a U.S.-Russian proposed peace conference before it decides whether to attend and says the role of President Bashar al-Assad is a decision "only for the Syrian people and the ballot box", a minister said.
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi was quoted by state news agency SANA on Tuesday as saying Syria welcomed the proposal but "will not be a party at all to any ... meeting which harms, directly or indirectly, national sovereignty".
Assad's departure has been a demand of the opposition since the revolt started two years ago and previous peace efforts have ground to a halt over failure to specify Assad's future role.
Zoabi's comments, which are in line with Syria's longstanding policy, will pour more cold water over a conference proposal that is yet to be agreed on by either warring side. SANA said he was speaking in an interview on Monday with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah's television station al-Manar.
The minister said Syria wanted a political solution but that international efforts should also deal with "terrorists", a term the Syrian government uses to refer to rebel fighters.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he expected a proposed Syria peace conference backed by Washington and Moscow to be held in June, and he denied reports that the Damascus government did not plan to attend.
"If he decides not to come to the table, it would be another one of President (Bashar) Assad's gross miscalculations," Kerry told reporters in Sweden. "I don't believe that that is the case at this moment."
Meanwhile, France's foreign minister warned on Tuesday a planned Syrian peace conference bringing both the government and rebels to the negotiating table would be hard to organise, doubting it could be held imminently.
The doubts came after U.S. President Barack Obama backed a new joint U.S.-Russian effort to seek a diplomatic solution picking up from a meeting in Geneva last June, but also cited an array of obstacles to a credible peace process.
"We want to create a transitional government that will take over the powers of (Syrian President) Bashar al Assad and as a result he would be sidelined," Laurent Fabius told RTL radio.
"I'm supporting the 'Geneva 2' talks, but it's extremely difficult," Fabius said of the name given to efforts to hold a second conference in the Swiss city in coming weeks.
Fabius, who spoke to his U.S. counterpart John Kerry late Monday, said foreign ministers from the 11-nation "core group" of the Friends of Syria, including the United States, European and Arab nations would most likely meet at the end of next week in Jordan to look at the feasibility of the proposed talks.
He said obstacles including the need to agree on suitable representatives both from the opposition and those close to the government "without blood on their hands" from a conflict which has claimed over 70,000 lives.
"We are trying to work towards the end of May," Fabius said.
"There will be some intermediary steps. A few of us will probably meet at the end of next week in Jordan and maybe after that in Paris."
A French diplomatic source said the meeting in Jordan would be at core group level and that senior diplomats from France, U.S., Britain, Russia and China would first hold talks this Thursday and Friday to discuss the U.S.-Russian initiative.
France has with Britain sought to lead European diplomacy on Syria, notably with proposals to drop an existing EU arms embargo on the country to allow arms supplies to the rebels.
Yet several EU governments are resisting French and British efforts to get the embargo lifted, concerned the move could escalate the two-year-old conflict. London and Paris are looking at options short of a full lifting of the embargo that would allow certain arms through, a senior EU official told Reuters.Last Mod: 14 Mayıs 2013, 16:16